Free Parking? Good in Monopoly. Bad on Memorial Drive

Cost to park: $0.

If you want to go to a Massachusetts State Park, you generally have to pay a parking fee. For $5 or $8 or more you have the privilege of parking on DCR-owned land. If you want to go to Kendall Square—where the going rate for parking is $25 to $30 per day—the DCR has a great deal for you! You can park in one of the 130-or-so parking spaces along Memorial Drive (and another 70 along Cambridge Parkway in East Cambridge) for free!

Does this make any sense?

Everywhere else in Cambridge is either metered parking or resident permit parking (and, yes, resident permits should cost more). The only free spaces in town are on DCR roadways: these spaces, and a few more along Memorial Drive up near Mount Auburn Hospital. The DCR is sitting on a bit of a gold mine: installing meters and charging for parking could bring in close to a million dollars per year.

Let’s imagine that the DCR decided to charge market rate for parking in the area: $2 per hour with a maximum of $20 per day. The cost to install a dozen-or-so parking kiosks would probably run in to the range of $100,000. Enforcement would likely pay for itself with parking tickets. The revenue? Assuming an average of $20 per day on weekdays (through casual parking or charging a daily rate) for the 200 spaces would raise $4,000 per day. With 250 work days in a year (give or take) it adds up to one million dollars. (Even if it was charged at a $1 per hour rate commensurate with the too-low rate for meters along Mass Ave and Vassar Streets, it would bring in $500,000 per year.)

There would be benefits for users, too. Right now, MIT has precious little short-term visitor parking on campus other than a lot on the corner of Vassar and Mass Ave (Rates: $8 per hour, $26 daily). By properly pricing spaces on Memorial Drive, it would give the area a source of open short-term parking, not long term car storage where finding a spot during the day is all but impossible. It would also help to reduce the demand for parking along the adjacent portion of Mass Ave, which could be reused as room for transit lanes and protected bicycle facilities.

And the money? It could be earmarked for non-road projects in the area. The DCR often cries poor when it comes to building sufficient bicycle and pedestrian facilities, but they’re all too happy to keep the roads in ship shape for cars. (There are too many examples including: 1. they refused to rebuild Greenough Boulevard until a private organization coughed up nearly half of the $1.2 million cost. 2. They get New Balance to sponsor the snow clearance of the bike paths along the Charles, yet they don’t hold drivers hostage until Ford and GM pony up to plow Storrow Drive.) A million dollars a year could keep the paths clear of snow, and pay for sorely-needed upgrades. They have a master plan for the Charles River basin but haven’t identified a source of funding. Uh, guys …

This is such a no-brainer that it’s almost criminally negligent that the DCR hasn’t been cashing in on parking fees on Memorial Drive for years. This could be implemented tomorrow (although the historical society would probably throw up a frivolous objection) and the money would start coming in immediately. The DCR has done a fine job rebuild the paths between the BU and Longfellow bridges. There are plenty more sections of the bike paths which could be improved.

12 thoughts on “Free Parking? Good in Monopoly. Bad on Memorial Drive

    • Holy straw man, batman.

      To get a Cambridge permit, you have to register and garage you car in Cambridge, which isn't that heavy lift, but a pretty significant barrier to entry for students. Even if they do, there are only about 200 spaces in question. The nearest permit parking to 77 Mass Ave is about half a mile away, anyway (not particularly convenient) and if we assume that half of the parkers on Mem Drive would get a permit, it only equates to about one additional car per block in Cambridgeport. That's about a 1% increase. Given that the overall number of permits in Cambridge is decreasing, this is manageable. (The city could even declare on-campus students ineligible for parking permits if it so wanted.)

      The answer is no, this would not cause a serious problem. And the state should not keep free parking on Memorial Drive so that the city issues fewer permits.

  1. It's an issue for East Cambridge as well as Cambridgeport.

    The City cannot declare on-campus students ineligible; some years ago this was tried and adjudicated (I think it was a Harvard student?) and the City lost (of course the Legislature could change that, but…).
    It's not the case that cars and blocks are evenly distributed, nor is distance from 77 Mass Ave the right indicator (dorms abutting Mem Drive have more students who park on Mem Drive).

    Anyhow, it's not a strawman, but I don't claim it's a practical or serious problem.

  2. Holy shit, 1st Anonymous can't even keep their own analogy together through two comments. No one wants there to be free parking there except suburbanites who don't contribute to the tax base.

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